RIGA, Lativa – Kevin Labanc (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Conor Garland (Scituate, Mass.) each scored two goals to help the U.S. Men’s National Team to a 4-2 victory over Italy in their final preliminary round game at the 2021 IIHF Men’s World Championship, giving Team USA its sixth-straight win at the world championship.
“Seventeen days ago, we came together some of us not knowing each other, and to now be sitting here in first place, we’re a proud group,” said head coach Jack Capuano. “We feel for our captain, Justin, though, who was doing everything right and leading both on and off the ice before his injury. Fortunately, he can still be with us here and we’ve said from Day One that it’s going to take every one of us, so we’ll keep that mentality as we turn our focus to the quarterfinals.”
With the win, the U.S., 6-0-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L), clinches first place in Group B with 18 points and will face Slovakia, the fourth-place team in Group A, in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Puck drop is slated for 9:15 a.m. ET and will be broadcast live on NHL Network.
Team USA opened the game with a three-goal first period. The scoring started 6:54 into the game when Ryan Shea (Milton, Mass.) picked the puck out of mid-air in the neutral zone and found Labanc for a breakaway chance he buried over the right pad of Davide Fadani for his first goal of the tournament.
Four minutes later, the U.S. doubled its lead off another goal by Labanc, who this time was able to beat Fadani high glove-side after being set-up off a nice give-and-go play between Adam Clendening (Niagara Falls, N.Y.) and Matty Beniers (Hingham, Mass.). Garland extended Team USA’s lead to 3-0 with :15 seconds left in the frame when he patiently drew Fadani out of position before tucking a shot low right-post. Jason Robertson (Northville, Mich.) and Matt Tennyson (Pleasanton, Calif.) earned assists on the goal.
The middle frame saw both teams score off turnovers to push the score to 4-1 in favor of Team USA. Italy struck first in the opening minutes when Italy’s Alex Trivellato stole the puck at center ice and fed an oncoming Luca Frigo for a shot that slid beneath Jake Oettinger’s (Lakeville, Minn.) left pad. At the 9:54 mark, Garland regained Team USA’s three-goal lead with his second goal of the night by picking up a mishandled puck in the slot and beating an outstretched Fadani at the left-post.
In the final period, after both teams picked up a penalty, Italy’s Stefano Giliati cut the U.S advantage to two goals as he spun-out in front of the U.S. net and slipped the puck under Oettinger’s stick to cut the U.S. lead to 4-2. Despite a pair of chances on the empty-net, the U.S. couldn’t convert as Oettinger finished with 9 saves in tonight’s victory, picking up his second win of the tournament, for the 4-2 final.
NOTES: Conor Garland (Scituate, Mass.) was named the U.S. Player of the Game … U.S. outshot Italy, 43-11 … The U.S. was 0-2 on the power play, while Italy was 0-3 … Defenseman Ryan Shea (Milton, Mass.) made his world championship debut in tonight’s contest … Brian Boyle (Hingham, Mass.) took over as captain of Team USA with Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon, Mich.) out indefinitely due to injury, while Colin Blackwell (North Andover, Mass.) and Matt Roy (Detroit, Mich.) are the squad’s alternate captains.